We went to see The Miracle Worker last week. It was the major production at Providence College, and Kyle Burgess (semi sort of adopted son living with us: from Zimbabwe; attending Providence) played the part of Helen's half-brother.
(Kyle at Christmas)
Now Lois and I are watching the movie version on NPR with Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke. Or I should say Lois is watching and quilting, and I'm listening and typing. Even this movie, so stirring and predictable (when I have the play fresh in my mind), is hard for me simply to sit and watch. The Final Four tomorrow evening is another matter!
One line out of the play: "Obedience is the gateway to learning": one line stands in sharp contrast to what we think today about raising children. Certain strands of that older way of thinking repel me: the idea that one must break the child's will in order to train the child is not one I endorse.
We have gone to the opposite extreme today. In Winnipeg there is a group of youth who steal cars for kicks, and recently have started trying to run down pedestrians and joggers as part of the game. As we try to work out how to respond to this situation, one realizes that many factors are at work: broken families; schools that no longer engage the children involved; the factors are almost predictable.
But the courts have added their own bit of lunacy to the picture by treating the epidemic as a case of children who just need a scolding. One of my colleagues referred to the practice in New York City of treating juvenile crime more seriously: working on the assumption that, if young offenders are punished severely at the beginning, they are less likely to enter a full life of crime.
I don't know the practice she is referring to, but one sees a kind of basic logic. Children learn early and quickly. If their first lessons in crime and law is that their actions receive a light sanction, they internalize that lesson and build on it. For Helen, breaking the cycle of tantrum-enforced misbehaviour was the first step into unlocking the world for the rest of her life.
I don't know what should be done in Winnipeg to reduce car thefts. Diagnoses are easier than constructive action. But the benefit of discipline is part of the answer -- for me individually, and for the U.S. and Canada as a whole.